I recently received an e-mail with a pretty simple message – “will you ever blog again?” The answer is yes; but I’ve been spectacularly busy and recent Assembly activity has been relatively mundane so the sense of urgency has been a little low. Have faith, though, as budget season is approaching and with it many topics will surely come to the fore!
In the meantime I recently received a volume of “Myths, Legends & Tall Tales” from my undergraduate alma mater, Claremont McKenna College, wherein alumni share stories from their tenure at that institution. It’s a shameless solicitation for contributions to the Alumni Fund but I enjoyed it in part because it includes a first-hand account of a 1980 story that Johnny Ellis, who was a student at that time, had imparted to me. I’ll re-publish it here with hopes you’ll enjoy it not for its politics, but for its creativity.
Here’s a little background that may help explain the story; CMC is located in California and generally (believe it or not) conservative, it was a men’s college until the late 70’s, “suites” are four-room pods within North Quad dormitories connected by a common bathroom, Scripps is an adjacent women’s college and “Green Beach” is actually a grassy hillside that slopes south from its eponymous dormitory to a large field used for a variety of recreational activities (much like Anchorage’s Park Strip). With that, here goes!
Stop Me Before I Kill Again – by Matt Pyken ‘83
The presidential election campaign was in full swing in the fall of 1980, with Ronald Reagan challenging Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election. (You can guess which candidate most CMC students supported.) That September, Reagan made a huge gaffe in some off-the-cuff remarks about repealing the Clean Air Act. He said that Southern California’s smog was a naturally occurring haze caused by emission from, among other things, trees. Yes: Reagan said that trees cause smog.
It was a disaster that needed fixing quickly, and CMC was just the sort of friendly place for Reagan to spin the gaffe into gold. Through the Rose Institute, I had been lucky to get an internship at the Reagan campaign’s Southern California headquarters. Our team quickly planned a live event, with Reagan booked to speak in the center of North Quad.
CMC was going to be at the white-hot center of national politics, and I was given the task of organizing everything on campus – including recruiting friendly students to come out in force for the Gipper. I put on my best suit and made my way around campus, finding mostly positive reactions from the right-wingers who inhabited the dorms in those days…that is, until I returned to my own suite in Green Hall.
Dave Ossentjuk ’83 greeted me with a mischievous smile. Dave was an old-school liberal who hated Reagan, and he was mad at me for working on the campaign. He knew I was more of an opportunist than a true believer, and that bugged him even more. But this was my big shot at making good on my internship, and I begged Dave to chill out during Reagan’s speech.
The big day arrived, and the event went off like clockwork. Red, white and blue bunting was everywhere. Smiling, clean-cut CMCers and their Scrippsie girlfriends flashed their pearly whites for the cameras. Reagan was in top form. CMC was in the national spotlight.
As Reagan began to conclude his remarks in North Quad, I considered myself a shoo-in for top marks on my internship.
Just then, a huge banner suddenly unfurled from a nearby giant oak tree. Speaking on behalf of the tree, the banner read, simply: “Stop me before I kill again.”
Every journalist’s camera whip-panned to the tree. A smiling Dave, sitting on a branch and holding the banner, looked at me and shrugged. He had us nailed, and I knew it.
I had to admit, the prank was done in the best CMC way – both subversive and funny. We all laughed about the banner well into the night, as both right- and left-wingers split a case of Miller longnecks on Green Beach and reflected on the big day. I got my internship “A” anyway, and we still laugh about that day 30 years later.
Part of what made this story fun for me is that I was housed in North Quad, including stints in Green Hall, throughout my tenure at CMC. That, and a more light-hearted approach to the political disagreements of the day. After all, laughter - even at oneself - is still the best medicine.
Copyright - Patrick Flynn, All Rights Reserved